Q: My wife and I have some friends that we’ve known for quite a long time. Over the last year or two we seem to be finding less in common. How hard should you work to preserve friendships if you feel as though you are moving in different directions?
A: Okay, it’s a good question, but I feel as though I need to tread lightly here. I think friendships are both an honor and a responsibility and should be revered as such. Having said that, the people we spend time with can have a profound influence on our lives, our beliefs and even our actions. We are all well aware of this where it concerns teenagers so I’m not sure when exactly we stop realizing the importance and the impact of who we spend our time with. If teenagers spend time with peers that plan on going to college, they are more likely to do so themselves. Conversely, if they fall in with what we affectionately refer to as the “wrong crowd,” we are more likely to be posting bail than we are to be applying for academic scholarships. Not dissimilarly it has been shown that couples who spend time around people who are divorced are more likely to end up so themselves. If this is an acceptable option for those we spend time with we are more permissive and accepting of it as an option available to us.
Perhaps it is assumed that as we mature we become more resolute about who we are and less susceptible to the influence of others. But my vote is that we purposely remain susceptible to the influence of others, we just make a tremendous effort to choose those “others” wisely. I don’t think there is a time in our lives where we shouldn’t be extremely conscious of the friendships we maintain and the company we keep. Do we surround ourselves with people that challenge and inspire us? Do we spend our time with people that have the courage and self-esteem to hold us accountable for not just doing our best, but being our best? Do we spend time with people who “raise the bar” of possibility in our lives and encourage us to be exceptional, honest, hard-working, respectful, devoted, inspired and alive? Or does our crowd spend more time watching Sport Center than watching an amazing sunset or their kids playing or with their nose in an inspiring book? Understand, this is not about claiming or feeling that you are “better” than anybody else, this is about claiming the very best in yourself.
This hits especially close to home as I have watched those I know and love gravitate toward spending time with people who don’t just accept, but encourage less than extraordinary character, so I am trying to check my sensitivity at the door and come at this with both emotional and intellectual considerations. On a lighter note, I remember my very best friend through high school, and I mean inseparable, go to the restroom together and spend every waking minute together kind of friends, calling and getting in touch with me years after we had graduated. I grew up in New York, but had gone off to California for college and she had stayed pretty close to home. But I remember getting this call from someone who used to be as familiar to me as my own self and her saying she had been at the Cold Spring Tavern on Friday night and “Kristin Smith came in and you wouldn’t believe what she was wearing.” I am sitting there on the other end of the phone thinking, “I cannot believe this conversation. I literally have nothing in common with this person anymore.” Not only could I not in my wildest nightmares imagine still spending my time at a high school hang-out, the thought of giving one second of care or concern to what an old classmate was wearing was a level of smallness that literally sent chills down my spine.
I think that it’s part of a natural rhythm that certain people come into our lives for a time and that perhaps we grow, change directions and move on. But I also know people who have friendships that have been a center piece of their lives since they were five years old and when I hear of such relationships I cannot help but dwell on what an amazing gift such a bond would be.
But I think the bottom line where it concerns your friends would involve you asking yourself, “Are they purposing to move and create their life in a positive direction?” I don’t care what the direction is, but is it centered on strength, character and promise? Do they encourage, inspire and push you toward your best and most exceptional self? If you have determined that averageness is not an option in your life, it is abundantly important that you surround yourself with like-minded people because living a mediocre mindset is about as contagious as the common cold. If you don’t want to catch it, the best defense is to avoid it at all cost. So ask yourself if this relationship is an exchange, as Greg would say, of encouragement and faith in one another. You don’t have to do the same things, but I believe you must value the same things. Honesty, integrity, memories, experiences, laughter, intention, and inspiration. If you determine that the answer is, “no,” I don’t think a deep discussion or any kind of drama is in order. You will just naturally move in different directions. But if you used to share these ideas and ideals and you feel as though they have drifted, then I think you have a responsibility as a friend to be a steadfast example and show them the way back to what they once were.
So make on honest evaluation of what the friendship is now and what it once was. “Time is at once the most valuable and perishable of all our possessions.” Keeping this ever and always in mind, WHO we spend our time with is one of the most important decisions we make. Do not ever cheat yourself of the life you were meant to live by spending this most precious resource unwisely.